Bellator followed up a great show headlined by Eddie Alvarez and Shinya Aoki with another big-time crossover matchup, this time between the man who beat Alvarez, Michael Chandler, and Japan’s Akihiro Gono. This one ended as explosively as the other main event did, with Chandler once again proving himself to be an elite lightweight.
That’s not to say that the rest of the card didn’t hold up, as there was good action throughout the night, along with some other solid talking points to get us through another week. It wouldn’t be a Parting Shots column without a criticism of either a referee or the judges, of course, so we may as well start there.
MMA Fans, Refs Give New Meaning to “Stand-Up Guy”
I’ve previously lamented the attention spans of MMA referees, which seem to shorten more and more as time goes by. Hasty stand-ups and separations from the clinch have become the exception rather than the rule, especially with certain referees (see: Miragliotta, Dan).
It was Miragliotta who did his best to hand Dave Huckaba a victory in his heavyweight matchup against Damian Grabowski on Friday night, repeatedly standing up and separating the fighters after brief periods of grappling throughout the fight. The most egregious stand-up came in the third round, where after exactly one minute on the mat- a minute where Grabowski threw over 35 strikes from within Huckaba’s guard, mind you- Miragliotta stood the fight up when Huckaba had little chance to stand up on his own. Huckaba went on to get the better of the action on the feet throughout the rest of the round, winning the round and making the eventual decision much closer than it had to be.
Three problems with quick stand-ups (in my opinion, “quick” means after less than two minutes in a position, unless in extreme circumstances where a fighter is literally doing nothing- throwing 35 strikes in one minute against an opponent who is only holding on for dear life is not “doing nothing):
1) In a striker vs. grappler matchup, quick stand-ups give a clear and unacceptable advantage to the striker. Why should he get to stand up if he can’t do it on his own? If he is passive on the feet and simply stops takedown attempts without throwing strikes, the referee doesn’t put the fight on the mat, does he? Takedown attempts expose you to counter-strikes and sap a lot of energy out of you, and referee stand-ups show additional favoritism to strikers by making grapplers work twice as hard to put the fight where they want it.
2) Quick stand-ups reward the “strategy” of simply holding on for dear life with a closed guard while on the bottom. That’s not a valid strategy, in my opinion. The fight should not be stood up when someone is doing this unless the top fighter is not striking or looking to improve position whatsoever.
3) These hasty stand-ups encourage and validate the booing of “fans” who cannot tolerate even 45 seconds of relative inaction in a fight. Everyone who boos after a half-minute stalemate on the mat should be made to get on the mat with another person of his or her size. Then, they should be told to pass guard or land a decent strike within 30 seconds when all the person on the bottom is doing is holding on and stalling. Try it. It’s not easy. Doubly so when your opponent is a professional fighter with great endurance and strength.
Why on earth should we cater to fans who only come to see stand-up fights? We have those sports already; they are called boxing and kickboxing. Can you imagine if, in the NFL, a winning team who was grinding out the clock by running the ball was told by the head referee that because their strategy wasn’t exciting enough, they were being forced to attempt a pass on their next play? MMA is literally the only major sport where referees are allowed to alter the course of a contest with the main reason being that the action isn’t “exciting” enough.
MMA not only survived, but thrived back in the day when there were no time limits, no stand-ups, etc. Now, I don’t want to go back to those days, but if fans who had very little understanding of the sport could learn to appreciate the extremely methodical ground games of Royce Gracie or Dan Severn, why can’t we expect more of today’s fans and referees? Why should we take away the valid strategy of grinding down an opponent? Simply because it’s not always the most exciting way to fight?
A referee’s job should NOT be to have a direct effect on the outcome of a fight. By separating fighters after less than a minute of time in a specific position, especially when the offensive fighter is clearly working for something, referees have a huge effect on the outcome and show favoritism to the fighter who is stuck in a position that he or she cannot escape from on their own. Unless the top fighter is clearly stalling, the referee needs to stay out of it and let the fighters decide the outcome for themselves. If you can’t mount an offense off of your back or stand up after you are taken down, that’s on you, not anyone else.
–You have to give props to Bellator’s production crew for their inspired Bob Ross/Ben Saunders moment during the hype video before the Saunders-Bryan Baker fight. Great stuff and brilliantly done. Bellator, for a long time now, has been a big league show not only in terms of the quality of its fighters, but also the production team and commentary team of Jimmy Smith and Sean Wheelock.
–Speaking of Smith, kudos to him for correctly noting that “the crowd starts booing; the referee’s gonna stand it up” during the Grabowski-Huckaba fight. I do wish he had accompanied that legitimate point with a criticism of said practice, however. Why should the ref ever do anything because of fan reactions? Another good observation in the same fight was that Huckaba, even though he appeared to be behind, was only throwing one punch at a time and often backing off after a successful shot. His lack of urgency certainly didn’t help his cause, whether it was caused by actual complacency or a deficiency of cardio.
–Kudos to Ryan Ford for a ballsy performance against a very game Luis Santos, as Ford got the comeback win. Santos showed an excellent Thai clinch, while Ford is clearly also adept at knees from the clinch. Both showed good killer instincts with their well-timed pressure when the other was hurt, but Ford simply was the one who got it done. Great fight.
Beautiful Loser Award
I’ll give this one to Ben Saunders, who may not have had his best performance against Bryan Baker, but still had his moments, particularly with a very crafty triangle-to-armbar transition in the first stanza. Saunders never stopped going for it, particularly off of his back, which you have to appreciate it.
Movin’ On Up Award
Meanwhile, Baker showed a nice all-around game and great submission defense while defeating Saunders by a healthy margin in a unanimous decision. Baker has already improved upon his performance from the Season 5 middleweight tournament, where he was quickly beaten by Vitor Vianna in the semifinal round. He looked much more comfortable in his most recent fight at welterweight than in his first bout at 170 pounds and has a good shot at winning the whole tournament.
Holy $#!% Award
If you thought I forgot Michael Chandler, you were mistaken. I just don’t know what else to say except for, “Damn, that boy’s good!” Akihiro Gono is not an elite opponent, but is also not usually a very easy out. He’s got some legitimate wins and looked focused and ready on Friday night, but it just didn’t matter. Chandler is as dialed in as any elite MMA fighter in the sport right now, and it showed as he landed a great straight right and followed it up with a flurry of ground strikes that showcased his excellent hand speed and aggression. The man’s a beast.
Tags: Akihiro Gono, awful refereeing, Bellator, Bellator 67, Ben Saunders, Bryan Baker, Damian Grabowski, Dan Miragliotta, Dave Huckaba, Jimmy Smith, Luis Santos, Michael Chandler, Ryan Ford, Sean Wheelock